Revisiting the College Football Playoff’s Alabama/Ohio State Decision

Exactly three months ago today, the College Football Playoff Selection Committee released their final team rankings for the 2017 College Football season, determining who would be included and who would be left out of the 2017-18 College Football Playoff. The Clemson Tigers, Oklahoma Sooners, Georgia Bulldogs, and Alabama Crimson Tide were selected to participate in the 4 team playoff for the National Championship. Alabama ultimately went on to win it all in historic fashion. They took down the first ranked Clemson Tigers 24-6, before rallying back down 20-7 to defeat the SEC Champion Georgia Bulldogs 27-23 in OT. They did so behind the play of their (then) backup Quarterback Tua Tag Tagovailoa, as Head Coach Nick Saban made the gutsy decision to pull his starting QB, Jaylen Hurtz, after being down 13-0 at Halftime. Tua rallied them back and threw the Game Winning Touchdown Pass in OT.

All in all, it was a spectacular finish to to the College Football Season. And for Alabama, it was their fifth National Championship Win in nine years, all under Nick Saban. Yet the aura surrounding the conclusion to that game seemed to almost entirely overshadow the fact that Alabama was very close to not even making the Playoff at all, and that their inclusion by the committee was rather controversial at the time, and something that many viewed as a big mistake. Now that the season is over and we have access to the results, I think it’s worth revisiting this decision by the committee, as doing so will better help us understand how they operate, why that decision was made, and whether we were wrong to create so much controversy over the inclusion of a team that would eventually become National Champions.

The Lead-Up: How We Got to Alabama vs Ohio State

For much of the season, it was a reasonable assumption that Alabama would make the playoff. They started the year on a tear, absolutely destroying everyone they played. They were ranked 1st in the AP Poll from weeks One Through Thirteen straight. They dropped down to five in Week 14. The College Football Playoff Rankings started during Week 10. In these rankings, which would ultimately determine entry into the four team Playoff, Alabama was ranked 2, 2, 1, 1, until they dropped to five in Week 14.

So what happened in Week 14? Up to that point, they seemed like a shoe-in. Well, Alabama lost to their SEC West rival, the Auburn Tigers, 26-14. This was Alabama’s final scheduled game of the season before the SEC Championship Game. Though Alabama would finish the regular season with fewer overall losses than Auburn, they were both  7-1 in conference play, which meant that their head to head matchup would be the tiebreaker for inclusion in the Conference Championship Game. Naturally, having won that matchup, that honor went to Auburn in the West. This put Alabama in the awkward position of, despite having just one loss on the season, not being able to further bolster their case to the committee. Without a Conference Championship game to participate in, they had no games left to play. While other teams could go distinguish themselves in their respective championship games, Alabama, now just looking in from the outside ranked at 5th, would seemingly have to rely on external circumstances to get in. (Nick Saban, recognizing this, wisely began making his case to the committee for Alabama’s inclusion right away.)

I bring this up because the committee needed every possible game available to make their decision. 4 Teams is an awfully small playoff field, and with only 12 to 13 games, depending on the team–I’m not sure why some teams play more games than others–plus conference championship in the College Football season, every game counts. This is especially the case when there are so many good teams. This year was one of the most competitive Top 10s we’ve seen in College Football in awhile. You could have made a case for just about any team in the Top 10 to be included in the playoff. Heck, you could even go further than that. The final CFP Top 16 were as follows: 1Clemson, 2OU, 3Georgia, 4Alabama, 5Ohio State, 6Wisconsin, 7Auburn, 8USC (Pac-12 Champion!!), 9Penn State, 10UMiami, 11Washington, 12UCF (Undefeated on the season!! (and would later go on to defeat Auburn in their bowl game)), 13Stanford, 14Notre Dame, 15TCU, 16Michigan State. You could easily make a case for an expanded playoff field with all those teams, and we very well could be looking at one not far off in the future.

Notre Dame (14Final) was ranked 3rd in the Week 10 and 11 CFP Rankings. UMiami (10Final) was ranked 3rd and 2nd in the Week 12 and 13 CFP Rankings. No team in the final Top 12 had more than 2 losses. It shows how hard it is to pick just 4 teams, and because of that, why even just one loss, especially late in the season, can be exempting. Look at Penn State, for example. They were ranked in the AP Top 5 for Weeks 2 Through 9 of the season. They had a phenomenal year and looked great in their bowl game. But their two losses were to Big Ten East rivals: A 38-39 loss at 6Ohio State (5Final), where OSU’s game winning touchdown came with less than two minutes left, and a 24-27 loss at 24Michigan State (16Final), who kicked a field goal as time expired. Both tight, to the nail losses to quality opponents, the latter of which could have been very different had their not been a 3+ hours long rain delay in the middle of the game. Nonetheless, those losses kept Penn State out of a conference championship, as well as out of the playoff.

So because of this small margin for error when it comes to the playoff, it was reasonable to think that Alabama’s loss to Auburn and lack of Conference Championship would keep them out of the Playoff.  How can you be the best team in the country if you’re not even the best in your conference?

After Bama lost to Auburn, the CFP Rankings looked like this:

  1. Clemson
  2. Auburn
  3. Oklahoma
  4. Wisconsin
  5. Alabama
  6. Georgia
  7. University of Miami
  8. Ohio State

It set up for a fascinating Conference Championship Weekend, which would go a long way in determining who would make the playoff. It truly was (just as ESPN advertised it to be) a fight to the finish. These were the matchups:

SEC Championship: 6Georgia (11-1) vs 2Auburn (10-2)

ACC Championship: 1Clemson (11-1) vs 7Miami (10-1)

Big 12 Championship: 11TCU (10-2) vs 3Oklahoma (11-1)

Big 10 Championship: 8Ohio State (10-2) vs 4Wisconsin (12-0)

Thinking back to this time, there were so many scenarios that could have occurred that it’s hard to keep track of and explain. Teams were most likely out if they lost, but if other teams also lost, they could maybe have snuck back in, depending on who it was that lost. But the simplest way to get in was to win. SEC Champion was guaranteed in. ACC Champion was guaranteed in. Oklahoma and Wisconsin, if they won, were guaranteed in. That would have been the simplest scenario. TCU was probably too low either way. And Ohio State, ranked at 8 was riiighhtttt on the cusp. Recall that Alabama was looking in on the outside, so they needed help. Which meant, based on what I just wrote, that if Oklahoma and Wisconsin won, then Alabama was out of luck.

The simplest scenario almost happened. Clemson blew Miami out of the water, and Georgia comfortably handled Auburn on the neutral field. There go two spots. Oklahoma comfortably handled TCU, there goes another spot. The last spot was there for the taking for Wisconsin. But they faltered and lost the Big Ten Championship 27-21 to Ohio State.

Notice that I’ve made very little, if any, case for Ohio State yet. When the final rankings came out, many people viewed them as slighted because of their Conference Championship. In those peoples’ minds, that Championship (along with other factors, which I’ll get into later), rightly earned them the spot as the Fourth Best Team in the Country. The three other conference championships were determining factors for the other three teams in, so why shouldn’t that be the case for Ohio State too?

This is how the narrative was framed, and it was justifiable once we were at that point. But I think it’s important to look at the big picture and remember how we got there, and I think once we do that, this narrative starts to look a little shortsighted. The narrative was that you had these elite teams at the top, and that Ohio State was one of them. But that wasn’t really the case. As I’ve established, the final few weeks gave us a generally very strong top 10 with a lot of possible scenarios and a lot of contenders vying for spots. When you look at the entirety of the season, there was a group of elite contenders at the top as generally indicated by both the AP Polls and the CFP Rankings. Those teams were Clemson, Georgia, and Alabama. Auburn rightfully put itself in that conversation with its dominant wins over both Georgia and Alabama. I think it’s useful to look at their Iron Bowl win as them essentially switching places with Bama. It both served to elevate their own standing (that they beat someone as good as Bama) while simultaneously lowering that of Bama (maybe Bama’s not as great as we thought). But their loss to Georgia in the Championship proved that they’re not the same team on the road, and that re-opened the door for Bama.

So Clemson, Georgia, and Bama–>Just Kidding Auburn–>Just Kidding Actually Bama were always the top dogs. Oklahoma too, put itself in that conversation because, well, despite a bad defense, Baker Mayfield was generally unstoppable. Then there was, in my opinion (and I think it’s backed up by the committee rankings) this second tier of contenders. Miami, Notre Dame, USC, etc. They all ended up having losses that showed they weren’t quite ready. And Ohio State was always more teetering on the top of that second tier then being part of the first tier. You could really put the top four Big Ten Teams there. They’re all very good, but are they at the level of Clemson, Georgia, and Alabama/Auburn? So the question then became, did Ohio State deserve to move to the bottom of the first tier (the playoff group) as opposed to the top of the second tier?

Because let’s remember, in the second to last CFP Rankings, Bama was ranked 5th (just looking into the playoff) and Ohio state was ranked 8th (more middling). Yes, I know they had the Conference Championship, but they were the lowest ranked team heading into Championship Weekend besides TCU, and had the most losses as well, tied with TCU and Auburn. But Auburn had the two dominant wins over top dogs Georgia and Bama, which, with a Conference Championship, would have been enough to overlook their two losses.

So when you look at it from this perspective, even with a Conference Championship, Ohio State should never have definitely been in. They were still teetering in the middle. So outside of that simple metric of Conference Championships, something that is very easy to point to and has a ring of prestige to it (as well as the recency bias of it, being the last game of the season played before the playoff), what led to people thinking that 8th ranked Ohio State deserved to be in the conversation with the top teams?

Well, I think the Conference Championship is the main reason, but also look what happened to everyone ranked above them. They beat Wisconsin in that game, so they had to be ranked higher than them. Georgia, with the comfortable win over Auburn, reaffirmed their season-long position as top dog, which also led to Auburn dropping way down. And Miami–who, despite starting the season 10-0 with two primetime blowouts of ranked opponents–the committee was always skeptical of, dropped way down with their meltdown in Clemson, which justified the committee’s hesitance.

So really, what screwed this whole thing up was Auburn. You had top dogs Clemson, Alabama, and Georgia, and then you had Auburn dominantly defeat and knock back both Georgia and Bama on separate occasions. The committee was very high on Georgia and Bama, so by defeating them, the committee was forced to respect Auburn as well. But after the SEC Championship game, Auburn’s loss–their third of the season–gave the committee the rationale to reverse back to their original position of Georgia and Bama being at the top. Enough teams moved around that Ohio State was able to slip into the No 5 position, but it still wasn’t enough for the committee to value them at the level of Georgia, Bama, Clemson, and Oklahoma.

It’s all very complicated, but we have to do our best to break it all down and look at as big a picture possible if we want to understand why what happened, happened.

Ohio State Had a Case

Now that we’ve established what led to Ohio State’s position of being just outside the top (in short: Bama lost to Auburn, Auburn lost to Georgia, Ohio State beat Wisconsin in the Championship, a bunch of other things did and didn’t happen…), let’s look at why so many people thought that Ohio State should have been included in the Playoff. And just to be clear, I’m not shilling for Bama here. Ohio State did have a strong case for inclusion, and there’s a good argument that, at least according to resume, they were a more deserving team than Bama.

1) Ohio State Was the Big Ten Champion.

As I mentioned earlier, the top 3 ranked playoff teams were Conference Champions. If Wisconsin had beaten Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship, they almost certainly would have gotten in as an undefeated Conference Champion. Alabama, on the other hand, didn’t even play in their Conference Championship. So after a week where Ohio State further distinguished itself with a win, and Bama didn’t do anything to change their prospects (they didn’t play), the committee still went with Bama. That is frustrating if you’re an Ohio State fan, and deservingly so.

2) Ohio State had a Stronger Strength of Schedule than Alabama

The committee talks a lot about the importance of strength of schedule. College Football teams, after all, choose which opponents they will play in advance. Ohio State had one more loss than Alabama, but one of those losses was to the Oklahoma Sooners. Buckeyes fans felt that the committee was punishing Ohio State for their strength of schedule. “The committee is making the point [that] wins and losses matter more than resume,” ESPN analyst Jesse Palmer said in response to the final rankings reveal. Ohio State would finish the season with wins over Michigan State, Penn State, and Wisconsin. Two of those teams would finish the season in the CFP Top 10, and Ohio State would add a third top 10 win with their shutout of Pac-12 Champion USC in the Cotton Bowl. Alabama, on the other hand, played LSU (Final17) and Mississippi State (Final23). Their toughest opponent was Auburn, and they lost that game. So according to season ending rankings, Alabama’s best ranked win (Final17LSU) was worse than Ohio State’s worst (Final16 Michigan State).

3) Alabama didn’t look good against quality competition.

Alabama destroyed the nobodies on their schedule. But they seemed to sleepwalk down the stretch against some of their SEC opponents. They beat Texas A&M 27-19, LSU 24-10, Mississippi State 31-24 with a late rally, and of course, their only real quality SEC opponent, the Auburn Tigers, they lost to.

When you put these facts together, it’s clear why Ohio State fans felt slighted. They had a strong schedule and a conference championship to go with it, and instead they lost their playoff spot to Alabama. Many saw this as the committee both a) capitulating to the Alabama name, and b) being biased towards the SEC.

At face value, it seems like Ohio State should have gotten in. And had they, they would have easily been able to justify it. Even so, these facts still don’t tell the whole story.

Ohio State’s Case Wasn’t That Strong

At the end of the day, the question wasn’t whether Ohio State had a case. It was whether that case was strong enough to put them in the competition over Alabama, and it simply wasn’t. Each of the points I just made for Ohio State could be justifiably argued against, as I will do now.

1) Ohio State Was the Big Ten Champion.

Earlier I talked about how the fact that there are so few games in College Football makes the margin for error very small. This applies to Conference Championships too, and nothing shows this better than Alabama’s 2017 season. They were undefeated up until their last game of the season. They lost a tough fight to one of the best teams in the country (and their rival) at one of the hardest places to play (Auburn also beat Georgia in Auburn, 40-17. Bama lost 26-14). Just like that, they’re out of the Conference Championship.

Don’t get me wrong. Everyone wants to be a Conference Champion. And I’m new to College Football so maybe I’m looking at this wrong. But ultimately, Bama wasn’t a Conference Champion because they lost one game (their only loss) at the end of the year. Those are the rules, and if they keep Bama from playing in the SEC Title Game, then fine… but I’m not sure it should undermine the fact that Bama was one of the best teams in the country for the entire year.

Even better though, let’s look at Ohio State. Yes, they won a conference championship. But it was only by the margin of 27-21. And if you watched that game, you got the sense that it could have been by a lot more. Wisconsin was more or less sleepwalking through that game. And they still took it to the very end. I think if Ohio State had gone out and destroyed Wisconsin, they would have had a much better case for going in. But they didn’t. When you’re that low in the rankings, you need to make as strong a case as possible, and I’m just not sure Ohio State did that.

2) Ohio State had a Stronger Strength of Schedule than Alabama

This is another point that is a bit overblown, in my opinion. Yes, it’s true, but I’m not sure the difference was significant enough to merit Ohio State’s inclusion.

Ohio State lost to Oklahoma, yes, but that wasn’t the loss that doomed them. It was their 55-24 loss to unranked Iowa in November. That’s a 31 point loss to an unranked team. Yes, there are weaker teams in college football, but it’s still unacceptable. That showed the committee that they simply couldn’t trust Ohio State to play with the big boys. You need to beat who you’re supposed to beat, and you need to be consistent on a week to week basis. Alabama has a record 73 straight wins against unranked teams. There is a zero percent chance they would have lost to Iowa. Zero.

Furthermore, Ohio State had their fair share of nobodies on the schedule. They played Army and UNLV early in the year, as well as all the little brothers of the Big Ten (Rutgers, Maryland, Nebraska, Illinois, etc).

Also, we have to mention that Alabama, in their opener, pummeled Florida State, during the only 3 1/2 quarters of the season when they had their starting QB healthy.

3) Alabama didn’t look good against quality competition.

But the same could be said for Ohio State. Yes, their wins against Penn State and Michigan State were impressive. As I said, they really weren’t that impressive at all in the championship vs Wisconsin. And what about their 31-20 win vs Michigan? I watched that game, and it was hardly dominant either–despite the fact that Michigan had zero offense last year. John O Korn had two straight drives to push for a go ahead TD and just threw the game away. On the first, he lost his composure under pressure and threw a jump pass (for no reason), missing a wide open man on 4th and 2 around midfield. On the next, he lobbed an INT straight to the safety on the first play of the drive with plenty of time in the pocket. A replay showed it was clearly the wrong read.

Sure, throw out the records when it’s Michigan/Ohio State, but the same can be said for LSU/Alabama. Mississippi State as well. The fact of the matter is that both of these teams had arguments counting against them, and Ohio State’s argument for simply wasn’t strong enough to push them in over Alabama. They had a case, and it would have been fine if they got in, but their case certainly wasn’t strong enough that people should have been getting as upset as they did.

The Committee’s Reasoning Made Sense

After Ohio State got left out, there was a lot of criticism surrounding the College Football Playoff committee and their process. That they’re too inconsistent, that they’re not holding themselves to the standards they set out, that they can’t justify their decisions, etc.

But at the end of the day, if you listen to what they said, they gave perfectly logical justifications for their inclusion of Alabama.

1) Alabama was consistently a top team over the course of the year.

This is something I addressed earlier in this post–it’s crucial to look at the rankings over the course of the season, and when you do that, it’s clear that the committee (who watches each of these teams each and every week) consistently viewed Alabama as a top football team. Here’s Kirby Hocutt of the CFP Committee the day of the rankings release:

“We spent a great amount of time last night into the morning, again beginning at 7:30 this morning, talking about the full body of work. Now that the complete season is in front of us, we have the full body of work. The selection committee just favored Alabama’s full body of work over that of Ohio State. And it was consistent over the course of the year. As we saw Alabama play week in and week out–our rankings show, when we start with a clean sheet of paper each and every week, that the selection committee believed that Alabama was the better Football team.”

2) The Iowa loss mattered.

When you see Ohio State fans say that Ohio State didn’t get in because they played a stronger schedule and that they should schedule weaker opponents in order to get in, it’s somewhat absurd because it totally ignores the Iowa loss. Iowa wasn’t a ranked team. So that loss didn’t have anything to do with strength of scheduling. Yes, Ohio State also lost to Oklahoma, but that wasn’t the deciding factor. Replace Oklahoma with an easy win on that schedule, keep everything else the same, including the Iowa loss, and the committee’s decision is very much likely to be the same. Or, take away the Iowa loss, and both Bama and Ohio State have one loss to ranked opponents, and in that case Ohio State probably gets in. So although strength of schedule did favor Ohio State, it’s also not what kept them out, and shouldn’t be mentioned as such. Heres Hocutt echoing the point:

“The selection committee looked at a one loss Alabama team, that one loss coming against the final ranking No 7 team Auburn in a very competitive game; we compared that to a 2 loss Ohio State team, obviously the one loss at home to the No 2 ranked Oklahoma, but more damaging was the 31 point loss to unranked Iowa.”

3) In this case, resume was a tiebreaker that wasn’t needed, not the deciding factor.

This is the one people struggle with the most. “How can you leave out a Conference Champion Ohio State team?”, they ask. The answer is that the committee’s agenda first and foremost is to pick the best teams on film. Things like conference championship, strength of schedule, are mere tiebreakers when the film isn’t clear. But in this case, the film was clear, so the tiebreakers weren’t needed. Therefore, it didn’t matter that Ohio State was a Conference Champion. Says Hocutt:

“Our charge is very simple. Our charge as the selection committee is to identify the four very best teams in the country for participation into the semifinals. And when there are close separation between teams, then we’re instructed to look at certain criteria. In this case, the margins weren’t close enough for us to look at those matters. […] Our charge is very clear: The four very best teams, and Alabama is included in those teams this College Football Season.”

4) So Conference Championships Don’t Matter?

This is another overreaction you heard a lot. No, they do. Three of the teams were Conference Champions. Usually, most of the time, the best teams will be Conference Champions. But sometimes they aren’t. Ohio State should know this better than anyone else. They were selected for inclusion two years ago over conference Champion Penn State. The committee chose Ohio State over Penn State, despite the latter’s championship and the former’s lack thereof, because they believed Ohio State was the better team. No Ohio State fan who supported that decision can rationally be upset by this one. Again, here’s Hocutt explaining the matter:

“We look at the four very best teams. Conference Championships are important. If you look at the history of the CFP Playoffs, 14 of the 16 teams have been Conference Champions. But however, we have the flexibility and the discretion to put non-champions in the top 4 if they are one of the four very best, and that’s what took place last night [and] was confirmed this morning.”

The job of these guys is to pick the best team on film. If you believe that, after watching film, Ohio State was the best team, then so be it. Go make your case. But for the most part, that’s not the argument you’re hearing. You’re hearing the argument I outlined above. But the fact that the Ohio State Bukeyes were Conference Champions and played a tougher schedule, doesn’t make them the best team on film. It might make them more deserving or more accomplished, and that’s something we can argue. But that’s not what this system is about. Here’s ESPN Analyst and former player Booger Macfarland after hearing the decision:

“The initiative of the College Football Playoff Committee is to get the four best teams. I think we in the media try to figure out different ways to make it easy for people at home to come to that conclusion. We come up with all these different formulas, all these different numbers. Let’s go back to the beginning what it’s about: It’s about the four best teams.”

It Will Never Be 100% Consistent

At the end of the day, you can’t quantify all this stuff. There are simply too many factors. So it’s not entirely accurate to say that film is the only thing that plays a role. If you’re an undefeated conference champion, you’re going to get in. There are things you can do to control your own destiny. If you play good teams, dominant your opponents, and win, you’re going to get in. Not necessarily all those things at the same time. But it’s why Wisconsin and Miami would have been in with Conference Championship Wins. They would have been 1 loss and 0 loss Conference Champions. It’s why Auburn would have been in with 2 losses–because they would have been Conference Champions with 2 wins over top teams.

But there are also things you can do to take destiny out of your own hands. When Ohio State lost by 31 to an unranked team, they took destiny out of their own hands. It’s not just that they lost. It’s that they lost by 31, and that it was to an unranked team. But let’s be clear: When Alabama took themselves out of Conference Championship contention, they took destiny out of their own hands too. It wasn’t just Ohio State.

At that point, you had two teams that didn’t make clear cases for themselves. So when that’s the case, it’s purely up to the committee and what they think by watching film. And they thought Alabama was better.

This isn’t bullshit. Let’s not treat it as such. No one liked the BCS. No one wanted a formula. Football is too subjective. This was an attempt to make the system and the competition as good as possible. And while there will obviously be blips along the way, it’s hard to argue with this year’s results. And ultimately, that is why we should be optimistic about the committee and trust their process going forward.

The Bottom Line: Was Alabama one of the Four Best Teams?

How many times have I used the phrase “four best teams” in writing this article? That’s what’s been drilled into my head the more I listen to the committee, to Kirk Herbstreit, to people who talk about the CFP and understand the system. That’s what it’s about. So at the end of the day, Alabama was the right choice if they were one of the four best teams. So were they?

I’m not a big fan of using results to justify the process. In fact, I think it’s one of the biggest problems in sports (and politics, and society in general…). But with this, it’s different. The only way to say if Alabama was one of the four best teams is if they beat the other top teams. And that’s exactly what they did.

Look, we won’t ever know how Ohio State would have done if they had gotten in. We can guess, but we can’t say for sure. But we do know how Alabama did. And the results speak for themselves.

It’s funny looking back at the youtube comments on the final CFP rankings reveal video. Everyone was saying Alabama would get destroyed by Clemson. I mean, I think we forget with how high a regard this Clemson team was held. They were considered by many, including the committee, to be the best team in the country. Alabama beat them 24-6 in the semifinal. And we know what happened next. Bama came back down 20-7 to beat Georgia in OT. In the same way that Oklahoma’s offense stalled late in the game when it played Georgia in the Rose Bowl, Georgia’s offense stalled late in the game in National Championship. At the end of the day, Alabama’s defense is the gold standard, and they can play with absolutely anybody.

Sure, there were a lot of things that could have gone differently in that game, like in any Football game. But it wasn’t a fluky win (like Super Bowl 51 was, but that’s another conversation…). Bama was dominant in every facet of the game, and they earned the win.

If you can look me in the eye and tell me that you’re positive that Ohio State, after barely beating Wisconsin, could have gotten through Clemson and Georgia in the way that Alabama did, then by all means, more power to you. But I have trouble that most people could really believe that.

At the end of the day, the CFP Committee got it right. Their job was to pick the best teams, and that’s exactly what they did.

Why bring this up now?

Because no one would shut up about it, that’s why!

The CFP is broken! The committee is corrupt! ESPN is a joke! Bla bla bla…

Look, I’m not saying it was a no brainer. Heck I just spent over 5000 words writing about it. There’s obviously a ton that went into this and a ton to talk about. It’s something I myself struggled with a lot.

But it’s worth looking back. For one, because it’s simply an interesting exercise to reflect on process, evaluate what we were right and wrong about, what went into it, and how we can learn from it. But two, because going forward, the committee showed that, despite how upset everyone got, it made the right decision, and because of that it deserves our trust.

I’m not saying don’t question the committee. I’m not saying don’t keep having conversations about this moving forward. Absolutely do. At the same time, this was a decision that perplexed a lot of people at the time it was made. Now, with the season past us, hopefully having this discussion has made some things more clear in retrospect, and will allow us to better understand the process the next time something like this happens.

And let’s also remember, the next time people get upset and say that the CFP committee doesn’t know what they’re doing, that at the end of the day they put a team in that many people thought they shouldn’t, and that team went on to win a National Championship. Maybe they know some things that we don’t.

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After Disappointing Outback Bowl Loss, Michigan has More Questions than Answers Heading into the Offseason

We know Michigan lost a record number of starters to the NFL last year, particularly on defense. We know they were able to win eight games despite this and despite playing three different Quarterbacks. Before their bowl game, I actually thought they had showed promise to end the season. Their losses to Wisconsin and Ohio State were both close games, and both could have been won with a modicum of Quarterback play.

But then, they imploded during their bowl game. It was alarming, and it led me to reevaluate this Michigan Football team and their prospects for the future.

Michigan was granted a pretty easy and winnable bowl matchup. They played South Carolina in the Outback Bowl, certainly not the epitome of bowl matchups. They built a 19-3 lead with just over 5 minutes left in the third quarter. It was, as it has been frequently this season, the Quinn Nordin field goal fest, but it looked like they were on their way to a comfortable win.

They ended up blowing the 16 point lead and losing the game 26-19, giving up 23 unanswered.

Everyone’s talking about the offense, as they should be, but I want to start with the defense, because it’s been somewhat overlooked. This is a good defense for sure, but too often now it just seems like they run out of steam late in games. Michigan was up 10-7 in this year’s matchup against Wisconsin, and they immediately gave up two big pass plays to allow Wisconsin to take the lead. A late long run from Jonathan Taylor a couple drives later sealed the game at 10-24. Michigan was up 14-0 vs Ohio State and they ended up losing the game 20-31. In last year’s loss to Ohio State, they were up 17-14 late and ended up losing in OT (although they were helped by some poor officiating). And even in this year’s 13-42 drubbing by Penn State, one of the worst losses you’ll ever see from a Michigan team, it was only a 13-14 deficit at the half. And now there’s this Outback Bowl loss, which included a long TD pass from South Carolina in the 4th to put them up 23-19. Too often it seems, this defense runs out of steam in the second half. Too often, when they need a big stop to put the game away, they end up giving up a big play. The offense not being able to score is certainly part of it, but the defense shouldn’t be ignored.

And then there’s the Michigan offense, specifically their play at Quarterback. This was supposed to a big outing for Brandon Peters, supposedly the guy that is their future at Quarterback, the guy that should have been playing all year, a chance for him to show what he’s really capable of and stave off the competition and hype surrounding incoming Ole Miss transfer Shea Patterson (if he’s deemed eligible).

Instead, Peters put on a very poor showing. He was 20/44 for 186 Yards, No Touchdowns, and 2 Interceptions. It’s the third time of the season he was under 50% completion, revealing some accuracy concerns. That measly 186 yards was also a season high for him — despite the 44 attempts. Perhaps most concerning of all for Peters was the interception he threw with 8 minutes left in the 4th Quarter. It was 3rd and goal from the six. Peters dropped back, looked right, then scrambled left and made an awful throw to the endzone while being hit. This is terrible situational football. If you kick a field goal there, you’re only down one point. That means you can kick a field goal to win, and Quinn Nordin has a range of over 50 (he kicked a 55 yarder in week 1 in this year). The interception reminded me of a turnover in the redzone Peters had at Wisconsin. He was rolling left and attempting to run toward the endzone. He ended up diving for the endzone several yards away. He was hammered well short of the endzone by multiple defenders, and the ball flew loose. Peters has to take better care of the football. He threw another INT on 4th and 1 on his own 41 with a minute left in the game.

Let’s talk about Michigan’s Quarterback situation, as that was their biggest problem this year and arguably in the Jim Harbaugh era. I’ve read some takes that you’re only as good as your quarterback, and that in this department, Michigan has had bad luck and Harbaugh has done the best he can with what he has.

On some level, this is true, and I bought it for a while. After all, Wilton Speight was injured in week 4, and John O’Korn was clearly never the guy.

But how much blame does Harbaugh deserve for not being able to properly develop a Quarterback? The more I’ve followed College Football, the more I think he does deserve some of the blame. Because when you look at the good teams in College, they’re often able to plug and play guys. Good recruitment and coaching, as well as having a good team identity, makes it so you see the same teams having success year in and year out despite the revolving door at Quarterback that is all but inevitable at the college level.

Perhaps the best example is Alabama in this year’s National Championship Game. Tua Tagovailoa comes off the bench and leads a comeback down 20-7 against the Georgia defense. Also, look at Ohio State. Jonathan Haskins came off the bench in this year’s game against Michigan and led a late comeback.

The more you look at the “Harbaugh just has had bad luck at QB” narrative, the more it falls apart. Let’s start with Speight. Sure, he was the starter and got injured, sure, that always hurts, and sure, he probably would have been more serviceable than O’Korn. But that ignores the fact that he had been on the decline since his injury in 2016. He was injured in week 4 this year, yet he was benched for poor play in week 1 to O’Korn himself, before getting injured! In the 4 games Speight started this year, he passed for a pedestrian 54.3% comp, 581 yards, 7.2 y/a, and 3 TD to 2 INT. Compare that to last year’s 61.6% comp, 2538 yards, 7.7 y/a, 18 TD, and 7 INT. Clearly not the same guy.

If O’Korn was never the guy, why was he starting over Peters in the first place? I had initially thought it was because they wanted to redshirt Peters, but it seems that Peters actually redshirted the year prior. So starting O’Korn for so many games made very little sense if he truly wasn’t the guy. And if Peters is the guy, whatup with that Outback Bowl performance? For most of his games, he’s been a game manager at best. If he is the guy, (and Harbaugh once compared him to Andrew Luck), we haven’t really seen it yet.

It was a good move by Michigan bringing in Shea Patterson from Ole Miss. If he’s eligible and ends up playing, he will bring some spark to the offense. But this week, we’re seeing reports that Wilton Speight, who at the end of the season had said he would transfer, might come back to Michigan if Patterson isn’t eligible. While this seems to make sense at first, it’s a bit alarming once you think about it. Dylan McCaffrey and Brandon Peters are supposed to be the future for Michigan. According to 247 Sports, McCaffrey was the 5th ranked pro style prospect in the nation, and Peters was the 6th. At some point we need to see these guys play. Bringing back the seemingly on the decline Speight just looks like another stopgap. If Peters and McCaffrey aren’t ready to play, that begs the question, why the hell not?

Looking back further at the history of Michigan Quaterbacks in Jim Harbaugh’s short tenure as Head Coach, Shane Morris barely played, and ended up transferring to Central Michigan last year, where he actually did an okay job, throwing for 55.8% comp, 7.26 y/a, 27 TD, and 17 INT. The Chippewas went 8-5, and tied for second place in the MAC West Division (although you have to assume these numbers would look much worse were he playing in the Big 10, where the Wolverines play). Alex Malzone… he doesn’t even have a wikipedia page so I don’t really know what his deal is, but it seems after close to no playing time at Michigan, he’s pursuing a graduate Transfer to Miami Ohio.

So the best Harbaugh has done with Quarterback at Michigan was Wilton Speight in 2016 before being injured (or facing Ohio State, whatever narrative suits you better), and striking gold with Jake Rudock in 2015 after transferring from Iowa. Rudock was pretty good for sure, but he also ended up being drafted by the Detroit Lions in the NFL (albeit as a sixth rounder and a backup), which makes you wonder how much of his talent was innate vs Jim Harbaugh coaching.

None of this is to say Jim Harbaugh should be fired. He shouldn’t. He took over a Brady Hoke team that had declined in wins every year of his tenure, culminating in a 5 win 2014 season, and led them to back to back 10 win seasons. At least for now, they’re not going to find anyone better than him.

But at the end of the day, 4th in the Big Ten East simply isn’t good enough for a franchise as prestigious as the Wolverines.

The biggest concern for me is that Michigan seems to be moving backwards when their rivals are only moving forwards. The Michigan State Spartans, after a disappointing 3-9 2016 campaign, finished the season at 10-3, tied for 2nd in the Big Ten East, with some pretty impressive moments from the Sophomore Brian Lewerke, including a 27-24 win vs Penn State. They finished 15th in the final AP rankings. Michigan’s best bet is that Michigan State’s sexual misconduct allegations within that organization get in the way of their on field product.

Penn State will be losing Saquon Barkley, but don’t expect them to go anywhere so long as Trace McSorley is at the helm. He was really impressive, showing great movement, decision making, and accuracy as the QB of that high flying offense. This was especially evident during their 35-28 Fiesta Bowl win. Penn State’s offense is extremely dynamic, well schemed, and hard to defend, and I expect them to continue to be a force to be reckoned with even without Barkley. McSorley finished 17th in the FBS in passing yards with 3570, and 15th in pass touchdowns with 28. Penn State finished the year 8th in the final AP rankings, and they would have been right in the playoff discussion if not for their two big ten losses to Michigan State and Ohio State by a combined 4 points. They finished the season 11-2, tied for 2nd in the Big Ten East.

Then there’s the Ohio State Buckeyes, who have been in the playoff mix for years and who many thought deserved a spot in this year’s College Football Playoff. They were Big Ten Champions and finished the season with a 24-7 drubbing of the USC Trojans in the Cotton Bowl, with their defensive line absolutely wreaking havoc. They finished the season ranked 5th in the final AP rankings. Sure, JT Barrett is graduating, but when he went out with injury in the Michigan game, Jonathan Haskins stepped in and led a comeback victory. If that’s a harbinger of things to come, the rest of the Big Ten better watch out.

Then there’s Michigan. In 2015 and 2016, the first two years of Harbaugh’s tenure, they had back to back 10 win seasons, and were ranked 12th and 10th in the AP Poll, respectively. They finished this season 8-5 and unranked. That’s not where they want to be.

Ultimately, Michigan didn’t hire Jim Harbaugh to beat up on Rutgers and Maryland. They hired him to take Michigan to the top of the Big 10, and more importantly, to beat the shit out of Ohio State, something he has yet to do.

It’s a tough business. Michigan is a good football team and certainly has the potential to take the next step. Now they just have to put the pieces together and figure out a way to actually do it and get over the hump. Otherwise, they’ll continue to be stuck as the little brothers of the Big Ten East, as they’ve been for a while now. Harbaugh, fair or not, has to figure out a way to fix this. Otherwise, he could be headed back to the NFL.

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Josh Rosen is the Best QB in the NFL Draft

Josh Rosen has officially declared for the NFL draft,  and I believe that he is by far the best QB Prospect in the draft. To be fair, I have only seen about 3 or 4 games worth of tape, and I haven’t substantively studied all of the eligible QBs this year. My opinion, like anyones, is always subject to change after watching more tape. And of course, this is by no means an objective judgment. Evaluating QBs is all about what you value, and everyone is bound to see the prospects differently. That’s what makes the process so fun and interesting.

Having said all that, in my mind, I’ve already seen enough to determine that Josh Rosen is the best QB prospect in the NFL Draft, and quite frankly, it isn’t even close.

It’s tough to sum up what’s so great about Rosen because there’s so much to like about him. But I think the best place to start is with his tremendous mix of NFL acumen/IQ and physical attributes. Quite often, it’s one or the other with QBs. The guys that are good with the more nuanced parts of the game (footwork, accuracy, anticipation) don’t have as good arm strength/speed/size, and vice versa. When you have one, you don’t really have to rely on the other. If you have great physical attributes, it’s easy to hang your hat on those and not develop the nuanced parts of the game. If you don’t have a great arm, you’ve got to be really great at the little things. That’s why the Quarterbacks that have both, are or have a shot at being all time greats (Aaron Rodgers, early Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck).

Josh Rosen has the best combination of NFL attributes and physical talent out of the draft prospects at QB. He has enough arm talent to make every throw. That in and of itself would be enough to make him an intriguing prospect. But when it comes to the nuanced parts of the game that make the great Quarterbacks great (like Tom Brady), he too is a master at those, far ahead of peers, and especially considering the level he is playing at.

Before I go into more specifics about Rosen, let me just preface by saying that my evaluations come from years of watching NFL Quarterbacks as well as following the smartest people in the business. This is not to say that I’m right or that you have to agree with me. It’s just to say that many of the attributes I pick up while watching Quarterbacks such as Rosen are subtleties of the game that might not be evident to casual fans. And this is what makes projecting (and evaluating) Quarterbacks to/in the NFL so difficult. You can’t just judge based on results, wins, or stats. Because there are some things that those just won’t and can’t qualify. (This is also not to say that people don’t fall back on cliches like “I watch film” or “I know the game” to justify their lack of substantive opinion. They do. Rather, I’m just attempting to give you an insight into how I evaluate Quarterbacks and where my opinion is coming from when I talk about them. A lot of these statements I make are based on subtle things you pick up on in watching Quarterbacks that you only start to understand after years of following the NFL.)

So let’s get into it and take a look at Rosen as a prospect, and what makes him so great.

Arm Strength/Physical Attributes

As I already touched on, Rosen has an NFL quality arm. He has the arm strength to make every throw, and the ball comes out of his hand with snap and velocity. He can also make deep down the field throws with little effort. While it’s not an insane arm a la Favre/Rodgers/Stafford, it’s significantly above NFL average and will be very intriguing to scouts. I’d give his arm a 9/10, only slightly below that top tier class of Rodgers/Stafford.

What is also so great about Rosen is that he’s a natural thrower of the football. The ball comes out of his arm very easily and he throws with very little effort. Being a natural thrower is related to arm strength, but it’s not the same. The best example of someone with good arm strength that isn’t a natural thrower is Blake Bortles. For Josh, the ball never comes out wobbly or short, and he’s always in a position where he can reload and throw with ease. He doesn’t have to work hard to throw the football, so to speak. It’s mainly about mechanics, but it’s also just an innate thing. Some people just throw the ball more easily than others. And Josh is always ready to throw and can always throw and put the ball where he wants with ease. That’s important, because as a Quarterback, throwing the ball is your No 1 Job – so you should be able to throw it as well and as easily as possible. Now, he doesn’t have the quickest or shortest release. I would say Sam Darnold’s release is quicker. But I wouldn’t say this is a problem. People have slightly different throwing motions, and his arm speed is quick enough and delivery is compact enough that he will be fine. In fact, sometimes guys with a slight windup are able to get a little more pop on the ball. His motion is somewhat comparable to that of Carson Wentz, maybe a little more compact. His ball position, windup, and release all allow him to get maximal velocity on the ball with minimal wasted motion.

At the end of the day, you’re looking at a high level arm talent and natural thrower of the football in Josh Rosen, and that in and of itself is enough to make him an intriguing prospect.

Footwork

You can almost always tell how comfortable or high level a Quarterback is by looking at his feet first and foremost. There are a few things to look for: 1) Are his movements calm, relaxed, and calculated? Or are they frenetic? 2) How do his feet and steps sync up with the timing of his drop and routes? Is he moving in a way that the play demands? Or is his movement haphazard, uneven, and/or random? and 3) How functionally mobile is the Quarterback? Can he shift and make subtle movements in the pocket in response to pressure? Movement is key at the Quarterback position. If the Quarterback has a clear and calm head, the feet usually follow. Two of the best Quarterbacks in the NFL when it comes to functional mobility are Tom Brady and Drew Brees.

Now, it’s worth mentioning that the timing of plays is very different in the College game than in the NFL. Mainly, College Teams on the whole often use much more of a spread offense than NFL teams do. This means that the Quarterback is in the shotgun or pistol almost all the time. There are far fewer deeper drops. You rarely see the five step timing throws, either from under center or out of shotgun, that you see in the NFL. Instead, what you get is a much quicker game. Often the QB is catching the ball and throwing right away (1 step timing), or taking a 3 step drop, or running play action out of multiple option looks. There is less nuanced footwork required. A lot of this has to do with the scheming of offenses in College Football. In college, the hash marks are much further apart than they are in the NFL. This means that the field is much less condensed than it is in the pros. When the ball is set on either the right or left hash in college, you have a ton of field to the far side to work with. Because of that, the college game becomes a lot about utilizing that spacing. This is why you see the prevalence of spread offenses in college. Its much easier to throw quicker timing throws, like WR screens, because it’s advantageous to get the ball to your WR in space. It’s much more effective to run deception based offenses (like those that utilize the option and reverses) because the wide side of the field is a far greater threat. It’s too much field for players to defend, and that leaves the defense vulnerable. One misstep on a fake or an option run gives the offense tons of field to get to the outside. As a defender, there’s too much ground to recover. (The opposite is true as well; over committing to to an outside man on an option play leaves the middle of the field wide open.)

Another thing this does is it makes running and improvisational QBs much more effective in college than in the NFL. In the NFL, to extend a play past 3 or 4 seconds, you need to be able to both manipulate the pocket, and get deep into your progressions to find the weakness in the defense. However in college, if a 3 step timing play isn’t there, the QB often has plenty of field to run around and improvise (the inferiority of college defenders has a lot to do with this as well, both in terms of closing speed in coverage as well as pass rush). In the NFL, if you’re running a 3 step timing play (a quick throw), the ball better be out within 2 seconds, or else you’re going to get walloped.

The spread/option offenses can lead to a far more interesting, fast-paced, diverse, and exciting product for the college game when compared to the NFL. But they also lead to QBs being less prepared for the NFL. Because of the aforementioned factors, you simply don’t see the type of QB drops in college required in the NFL: 5 step from under center, play action from under center, 7 step from under center, 5 step from shotgun. This is not something you can learn over night. The timing of NFL offenses and routes, how those routes sync up with the QBs drops, take time to learn. If you’ve never dropped back from under center, that will be an adjustment. It requires balance and precision with your mechanics. People don’t think about stuff like balance in your footwork and drop when evaluating QBs, but it’s the absolute basics when it comes to the position; every QB that is successful does those things well, and if you can’t do those things well, forget about everything else.

A great example of this is Robert Griffin III. He wasn’t ready for the NFL coming out of Baylor, so Mike Shanahan taylored the Redskin offense in 2012 to look like that of a college offense. It was run primarily out of the pistol, and combined option runs with quick, 1 and 3 step passing. RG3 was rarely asked to drop back straight and read the full field, because he couldn’t. Once NFL defenses learned how to play the option, RG3’s game fell apart. He simply never was able to learn the fundamentals of the Quarterback position.

This is not to say that guys who run spread offenses are incapable of transitioning, but simply that it will be a transition, and if a guy can show that he did things at the college level that he will have to do at the NFL level, then that’s a plus in his evaluation. Two great examples of this were Andrew Luck coming out of Stanford and Carson Wentz coming out of North Dakota. They both had experience running pro style offenses with success, and reading full field NFL type route progressions. This made their transition to the NFL game far quicker than it was for other prospects.

Successful college QBs, because of how different the college game is, often look different than successful NFL QBs. They often have a quicker release, are quicker twitch athletes, maybe have a slightly smaller frame, and can run fast. Two guys that come to mind in the NFL are Marcus Mariota and Derek Carr, both of whom have had their ups and downs in the NFL. Both guys are very quick twitch, as they had to be to run those spread offenses (with all the 1 step timing and option players). But they had less experience with pro style drops and progressions, and as a result have struggled at times. A guy who fits that college QB profile perfectly playing in college right now is Baker Mayfield.

Josh Rosen, on the other hand, is what I imagine an NFL Quarterback to look like. Taller, bigger frame, slightly longer release but stronger arm to go with it, slightly less twitch but also more calm in the pocket.

Of course, there’s a balance here. There are guys that can be the opposite of the college QB, and too deliberate to play in the NFL. Zach Mettenberger is a guy that comes to mind, Tom Savage another, and Jameis Winston at times as well. There are also guys that run pro style offense but just aren’t good enough to be in the NFL, so none of this is a zero sum equation.

But the point with Rosen, even more important than his physical profile, is how effective and smooth he was with his footwork, timing, and execution when it came to running an offense that featured NFL style drops and timing. His five step drop from shotgun and his play action from under center are about as pristine as it gets. He comes off his drop, plants, transfers his weight, and hits the proper read immediately. Or, he’ll calmly step up in the pocket, go through his progressions, and find his outlet receiver at the exact time the play requires it. Everything is in sync. His footwork always matches up with the timing of his routes and his drops. And it all works so seamlessly. He also feels where the pressure is coming from and is able to manipulate the pocket and move away from it without losing his composure. There is simply an NFL style command and control to his game that you don’t see with the other prospects, and this brings us to our final point with Rosen.

IQ

Josh Rosen has all the physical tools, but he also understands the game. This is evident from his complete and total command of a UCLA offense that asked him to be the guy. This is not the case with many offenses in College. Often, once a play is over, QBs will turn to the sideline to get the play call (as will other position groups, looking at different coaches depending on their position). He will run up to the line once the formation is set, then he may turn back to the sideline to get the audible. Coaches signal all this with hand signals or cards, and do so based on what the defense is doing. The QB isn’t running or directing the offense prior to the snap. He’s just one cog in a well oiled machine. This is mainly the case for spread offenses.

The UCLA offense with Josh Rosen, stylistically, could be called a spread offense in the sense that it was run primarily out of the shotgun (although it mixed in under center formations as well). But it differed from the traditional spread in that Rosen ran the show. When they went no huddle, he got the full play call and would portray it to the rest of his team. He also would audible based on the defensive look. Post snap, the offense primarily featured NFL style routes. These are all things a QB will have to do at the next level, and the fact that Rosen not only did them, but did them with such efficacy is a testament to his NFL readiness.

And he was always in command of this offense. He understood where to go with the ball. He directed his receivers based on the play and the defense. He moved with an elegance and nuance as if it was second nature to him. And he threw the football with both velocity and accuracy, especially down the field. One thing I saw that really impressed me from Rosen was the back shoulder throw. That’s an incredibly advanced throw to make and not something you see a lot of in College. It requires a perfect sense of timing and ball placement, as well as a shrewd understanding of the defense and chemistry with your receivers. Rosen had all of that.

Not to mention, his defense was absolutely horrible. He constantly had to play from behind and throw the ball a ton to get back into the game (often over 50 times). This was no problem, as he stacked up 300 yard passing efforts as if they were nothing. Perhaps there’s no better indication of this than his comeback win vs Texas A&M. Down 44-10, Rosen’s Bruins came back and won the game 45-44 on the back of Rosen.

If you’re looking for a guy who can put an offense on his back and has a command and understanding of how to run an offense from an NFL level (and has all the physical attributes to do so), Rosen is your guy.

Conclusion

The Bruins were 6-6 under Rosen this year, but that doesn’t really bother me. When evaluating college QBs, you have to look at traits and attributes, not wins and losses and stats. There’s so much variance in college that those things are useless without context. Besides, that record can mostly be attributed to UCLA’s awful defense. Here was the final score in their losses:

@Memphis: 45-48
@Stanford: 34-58
@Arizona: 30-47
@Washington: 23-44
@Utah: 17-48
@USC: 23-28

You’re not going to see those kind of scores in the NFL. In the wins under Rosen, UCLA scored 45, 56, 27, 31, 44, and 30 points. Is it concerning that all the losses were on the road? Perhaps, but that still seems to me to be a product of poor defense, and perhaps coaching as well (Jim Mora was fired midseason after the USC loss).

Josh Rosen’s Stats in his 3 years at UCLA are as follows:

Freshman Year (2015): 13 games, 60% comp, 3669 Yards, 7.5 Y/A, 23 TD, 11 INT
Sophomore Year (2016): 6 games, 59.3% comp, 1915 Yards, 8.3 Y/A, 10 TD, 5 INT
Junior Year (2017): 11 games, 62.6% comp, 3756 Yards, 8.3 Y/A, 26 TD, 10 INT

I think the improvement in his final year is especially noteworthy. You want a guy on the upward path.

The biggest concern for me with Rosen is injuries. He suffered injuries the past two years. It’s something I haven’t looked at to be honest, and something that will have to be scouted carefully (and absolutely will be) for any team who’s interested.

There have also supposedly been questions about Rosen’s attitude, but most of this is speculative, and therefore not something I can put stock into. Unless you’re in the huddle with the guy, there’s really no way of knowing. That is, unless the guy has off the field issues, which Rosen hasn’t. NFL teams will look into all this stuff when they evaluate Rosen, but as an observer, based on some ESPN gossip, it’s not something I’m going to value.

As I said, the evaluation is limited. It’s not as if I’ve watched every snap or seen every full Bruin game since his first start. Having said that, I’m confident in my evaluation and feel as if I’ve absolutely seen enough to assertively say that Rosen is the best QB Prospect in the NFL Draft. It’s evident from watching him on film. It’s certainly a great QB class, but Rosen’s mix of physical attributes, mental acumen, command of his offense, nuanced understanding of the game, and pro readiness, make him a can’t miss guy for any team looking for their next franchise QB. If drafted, Rosen is the type of player that would come in and make an impact immediately.

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How Michigan Can Beat Ohio State Next Weekend

It’s been somewhat of a disappointing year for the Michigan Wolverines. Sure, 8-3 looks good from the outside, but most of those wins have been piled up against lackluster competition. We saw Michigan lay an egg at home against the Spartans, get absolutely demolished at Penn State, and come up short last week against Wisconsin. This is a proud program with championship aspirations, and they didn’t make Jim Harbaugh one of the highest paid coaches in College Football to be just good. Michigan was 10-3 the last two seasons under Harbaugh, and they will likely finish this year at 9-4 or 8-5. Overall, that’s a pretty good record for a coach’s first three years, but unfortunately for Harbaugh, Michigan’s inability to beat their Big 10 rivals is nothing new. Michigan finished 3rd in the Big Ten East at the end of the 2015 and 2016 seasons. They also fell out of the CFP rankings twice this year and will likely be out again this week. In fairness to Harbaugh, Michigan did lose their starting QB, Wilton Speight, during the fourth game of the season, and they lost just about their entire defense to the NFL last year. Still, this game is about results, and considering what Harbaugh is being paid, it’s no wonder Michigan fans are beginning to grow restless with him. Michigan fans want to see this team get over the hump and represent the Big Ten over the likes of Penn State and Ohio State, and so far, we haven’t seen that.

With their 24-10 loss to Wisconsin last week, Michigan all but gave away their chances of representing the Big Ten East in the Big Ten Championship Game. That spot will now be occupied by Ohio State, who will face Wisconsin in the Championship two weeks from now. Coming off the loss to Wisconsin, Michigan will now have to face an Ohio State team that, at their best, is one of the more potent offenses in College Football. Ohio State is currently ranked at 9 in the CFP rankings, and they’re hoping to find a way into the College Football Playoff, which is very much still a possibility.

All in all, it’s tough to have too much confidence in this Michigan team going into this game. Earlier in the year, this matchup looked like a great way to wrap up the season and determine the Big Ten East Champion. But at this point, it’s certainly looking pretty tilted in Ohio State’s favor. However, this game will be hosted by Michigan at The Big House, and anything can happen in a rivalry game, especially a rivalry as heated as this one. With that in mind, let’s take a look at how Michigan can end the season on a high note and pull of the upset at home.

1) Run The Ball

It certainly hurt Michigan to have their starting QB, Wilton Speight, injured during the fourth game of the year, and Michigan fans are definitely upset about backup Brandon Peters getting hurt last week. However, regardless of who’s starting at Quarterback, the Wolverines want to be a run first team. That’s who Harbaugh is. It’s who he was in the NFL, and it’s who Michigan has been with him at the helm. Michigan plays their best when they’re running the football well.

We’ve seen Michigan have some absolutely huge games on the ground this year, yet in their losses, the run seems to have mostly gone away. It is imperative that Michigan stay committed to the run in this game. If they put the game in the hands of Quarterback O’Korn, they’re going to lose. They need to stay stubborn with the run, even if they’re struggling. Karan Higdon has been their best back and I would stick with him if I were Harbaugh, but Chris Evans and Ty Isaac have been capable as well. It’s easy to go into a game against a tough opponent and think that you won’t be able to run the ball, or that you need to throw constantly to keep pace. But Michigan’s identity is tight I-Formations and a run heavy offense. That’s who they’ve been in all of their wins, and you can’t change your identity just because of who you’re playing. Furthermore, Michigan has to stay ahead in down and distance. They can’t drop back on 2nd and 3rd and long in this game and expect to win. Neither their pass protection nor their Quarterback is good enough. If Michigan wants to win, they need to run the ball and do it well. Even if they’re not scoring on every drive, if they can move the ball a bit, take up time of possession, stay ahead of down and distance, and win with field position, they’ll have a shot. But if you’re giving the Ohio State offense possession after possession, they’re going to capitalize, and you’re not going to be able to keep up.

2) Don’t Turn the Ball Over

You can’t give this Ohio State offense extra opportunities. They’re too potent. Since this is unlikely to be an explosive game for Michigan, it has to be a mistake free game. O’Korn probably won’t have a huge game, but the one thing he cannot do is turn the ball over. Michigan had some dumb and costly turnovers last week against Wisconsin, and turnovers have been a problem at times for O’Korn this season. Play safe, and play smart. Don’t give the game away. Make them earn every yard.

3) Don’t Give up Big Plays on Defense

This Ohio State offense is about as explosive as it gets. But the Michigan D has been, for the most part, pretty darn good this year, especially considering how little help they’ve gotten from the offense. Nonetheless, there have been times where they’ve given up big plays. At Penn State, they looked overwhelmed by the pace of the Nittany Lions’ spread offense and gave up some pretty big plays to RB Saquon Barkley. Last week against Wisconsin, they were mostly pretty solid. But you did see a few long runs from Jonathan Taylor. Michigan played a pretty aggressive game on defense and blitzed a lot. At times, Wisconsin was able to block it up quickly on some gap scheme plays and once Taylor got through to the secondary, there was no one left to tackle him.

I’m not saying Michigan shouldn’t blitz, but they need to understand that if they’re going to win this game, it’s going to be on defense. Perhaps they’ve known this all year, and it’s caused them to press a bit on D. Nonetheless, just one or two big plays can change a game. For this Michigan D, you have to be sound, disciplined, and patient. Keep everything in front of you, and make them earn every yard. Don’t feel the need to make the game changing play on every play, and don’t get impatient. As Bill Belichick would say, “do your job”, and the rest will come naturally.

4) Get Something out of the Passing Game

John O’Korn probably isn’t going to throw for 300 yards. In fact, I would hope that he doesn’t, because if he does, it probably means that Michigan got behind early and had to play catch-up. But what O’Korn does need to do is give Michigan at least something in the passing game to help them move the ball and keep the defense honest.

I heard a lot of people upset when Michigan QB Brandon Peters left the game with a head injury last week. Many pundits said that Michigan seemed to give up after he left. Is there some truth to this? Maybe. But let’s not overplay it. Peters certainly seemed to give the offense a spark when Harbaugh pulled O’Korn for him earlier in the year. And when people say that, what it usually means is that the team played better when he was under center, not necessarily that he was the driving force behind the team playing better. And this remains true for Michigan. Peters made some good throws here and there. He seemed more willing to throw down the field than O’Korn was, and he certainly was able to avoid the turnovers in a way that O’Korn wasn’t.

However, the truth of the matter is that for the games Peters played in, Michigan just didn’t ask him to do that much. He didn’t break 20 attempts or 160 yards passing in any of the games he played. Maybe he would have played better than O’Korn did, but can we really say for sure that the losses to the Spartans and Nittany Lions under O’Korn would have been wins if Peters had played? Of course we can’t. The Spartans game, you could maybbbeee make an argument. The Nittany Lions game I watched from start to end, and actually thought O’Korn threw the ball okay. But the offensive line was completely overwhelmed, and Penn State got up big early. With the energy they showed at that stadium (it was the whiteout night in the crowd), it was pretty clear that wasn’t Michigan’s game to win. Peters got the easier part of Michigan’s schedule, outside of the beginning of last week’s Wisconsin game.

Michigan did have a short period of time when they looked good last week with Peters under center. He hit a nice big play to end the half that led to a TD. It was a seven step drop post route on first down, a basic shot play, yet the kind of play out of the passing game that has been missing from Michigan’s offense and their bottled up air attack. For a little bit in that game, Michigan looked like they were gaining momentum.

But there were two key series early in the second half that Michigan failed to take advantage of: The first they had a short field off of a punt when Wisconsin was backed up (they didn’t get anything out of it), and the second was after they intercepted Wisconsin’s QB but only were able to kick a field goal instead of cashing in for six. Shortly after that, Wisconsin took the momentum back. Peters also had some costly mistakes early in the first half, including a bad fumble while trying to dive for a TD. The point being, while O’Korn certainly did nothing to inspire anyone once he replaced the injured Peters, Michigan was missing opportunities and struggling under Peters in that game as well, despite the promise that he did show.

None of this is to knock Peters or prop up O’Korn. We just have to remember that Peters was a freshman who wasn’t asked to do much in limited game action, and that regardless of who Michigan’s Quarterback is, they’re not going to be the driving force behind this offense. The point being, Michigan can’t fall into the trap of thinking this game is over and they have no chance just because Peters is injured, because while it’s unfortunate, it’s simply not that big a deal. Next man up. Go out there, lift your head up, and play offense.

Having said that, O’Korn can’t do nothing and expect to win this game. You’re not going to win this game with under 100 yards passing. He needs to convert some 3rd downs, complete the passes that are there, and maybe hit a shot play or two. Nothing big, but we need something from him.

5) Be in the Moment and Take Advantage of the Atmosphere

Forget Harbaugh, the money, the record, the standings, everything we talked about earlier. This is the last game of the season before your bowl. This is Ohio State vs Michigan at the Big House. The crowd, hopefully, will be packed and roaring, and there will be energy and excitement in the atmosphere. This is a one game season. Go out there and show everyone what it means to be a Michigan Wolverine. This is a heated and intense rivalry, and for the Wolverines, there’s only one thing that matters next Saturday, only one thing that should be on your mind: Kicking the shit out of Ohio State. Go in and play with that mindset, and a win won’t be far off.

Conclusion

It certainly hasn’t been the year many expected for the Maize and Blue. This year we learned that while they’re a good team, they just weren’t quite ready to compete with the big boys yet.

Certainly the questions have begun and will continue to be asked. The pundits are already getting their typewriters warmed up for what will likely be a long offseason of questions about Harbaugh and if he’s up for this job. If he’s good enough to compete with the top class of the Big Ten.

But man, wouldn’t it be something to end the season with an upset win over No 9 Ohio State? To get a win over a rival despite all the odds, to show the country that you can compete in the Big Ten and that you’re not destined to keep losing to the likes of Ohio State? That certainly would end the season on a high note and quiet the whispers, if only for just a bit.

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